In the United States, our Independence Day on July fourth is a time to enjoy parades, fireworks, and picnics with family in celebration as we create new memories to enjoy when the days are not so long, nor so warm. Summer solstice has marked the height of energy and the start of the dark half of the year. Energy spills forth in the Northern Hemisphere, urging on our frenetic pace with children and loved ones on vacation, at outdoor festivals, and grilling in the backyard. We can still enjoy the last wisp of light past nine at night and greet the dawn at five in the morning. Summer fun is pure freedom.Maybe it is because the time is so brief that we indulge in crazy antics and allow our dreams to reach fruition. We fight the urge to just take the day off or skip a Friday afternoon to go to the beach, the lake, the woods, or just the community pool. We tolerate cousin Renee’s crazy dance in the backyard because we know that it’s not happening once the fall arrives and the responsibilities of work and school resume. We spend time catching up on stories with those we love, and we make new stories with people we don’t really know well.
It is during the height of this celebration and warmth that we see signs of the darkness that will increase. Pain mingles with joy. My household is full now with relatives whom I have not seen in years due to impending tragedy, yet laughter is the norm. The connections of family make this summer sweet. We would not be doing this in the cold of winter, when schedules and the occasional blizzard might interfere with bringing so many together at once. I live in an area with a reputation for snow and cold for at least five months of the year. In some parts of the state, six months of winter weather are not uncommon. Recently, one family member asked if it was still cold. In July. When travel plans can be derailed by a potential blizzard or below-zero temperatures, this reputation can make it difficult to attract family members to visit in late fall, winter, or early spring.
Illness can happen at any time of the year, yet have you noticed that during the summer, when you can make light of a heavy situation through laughter that it is a bit easier? The contrast between light and dark strikes me fully as I think of the anniversary of the death of Philando Castile, killed while the sun still shone at nine o’clock in the evening, on a warm night. A storm had passed the day before. At the time, it appeared to be just another typical summer evening meant to be enjoyed with family and friends.
In summer, I find that the lines between my non-Pagan family and my Pagan family are blurred. It is a time of truce, blessed by the balance of food and ordinary life. We cook together and we sympathize over the wait at the airport and the crush of everyone else trying to get out of town at the same time. We eat hot dogs fresh from the grill, and smother them with onions, chili, or sauerkraut. We munch on silver corn on the cob, enjoy potato salad, and indulge ourselves with chocolate cake, Key lime pie, and anything else that oozes calories, sweetness, and decadence. Diets can wait until the end of vacation. We’re taking a break from the “must-dos” and “have-tos” of life.
In summer, there is no need to explain the connections between those who follow a Pagan path and my family of origin members who are non-Pagan. Food as fulfillment makes the difference. There is little time to argue about religion with a mouth full of good food. The season lends itself to a tendency to choose commonality over conflict. I’ve noticed that there is a brevity to many arguments in summer: why waste the time to argue when there is enjoyment waiting? It’s easier to walk away or to find something else to do, or to find somewhere else to be. Summer time is precious. It also seems to be one reason that lighter programming meant to inspire laughter or amazement: The Gong Show, To Tell the Truth, Celebrity Family Feud, The 100,000 Pyramid, Little Big Shots: Forever Young, and America’s Got Talent. We can just take the time to have fun.
This is not to say that sad events take a holiday in summer. Divorce, death, separations, job losses, evictions, serious arguments, car accidents, robberies, home invasions, and suicides march on as they do at any other time of the year. We cope with what we can with the resources we have. Families of origin and Pagan families may be far-flung throughout the year. In summer, there may be more of a chance of gathering to celebrate and to pre-mourn. Yes, there is anticipatory grief which can be lightened by comfort of family and silly things. There is the hospital visit or the family gathering to pack boxes to move a loved one home on 48 hours notice where the season matters. We take things seriously, yet we let the season free us to interact with others in a lighter manner.
We mourn and laugh in our time of grief: the realization that the place called home is no longer the haven that has been an anchor in previous years; the frantic search for a new job using every networking and family connection possible helps to keep the semblance of reality that has been a constant financial support; the hope we gasp in our hands that we can find peace in the morass of pain that divorce or separation leaves in our hearts. We use the outer fast pace of summer, its warmth, and the proliferation of what is fun and silly to cope. It’s easier to take a five second break when you can take the time to laugh.
Emotionally, even when sadness intervenes, there is a lightness to it in summer. The heaviness is there and remains, but the love of family and the interaction of friends makes the burden that much lighter. It is a freedom from the restrictions that we may not even realize we have until we can lift our spirits in laughter as we chase each other with a water hose, dip our toes in the warm water, or play outside in the grass. We are like children. Our resilience comes from the energy and the sunshine at this time of the year. This is a time when we free ourselves to enjoy what we have developed in the late winter and the fullness of spring.
We enjoy family time during this brief interlude perhaps because we know that the hot days of summer do not last long. The very peak of this time marks the transition from the external growth to the internal appreciation. What we embrace now will be what sustains us in the growing dark half of the year. We hoard the good times, the laughter, the jokes, the days at the beach, the camping trips in the woods, the need for mosquito repellent and sunscreen, and the joy at just standing under a water hose on a hot day.
We take a break from grief at times, if only for brief moments to recharge and to gather strength from the love of those we consider family. We internally shall return to these days, these memories, and these nuggets of strength in times of darkness. Summer frees us internally and allows us to accept the gifts of family and fulfillment it brings. It does not take away the sadness, the hurt, the anger, or the pain, but the heat of summer sun brings us healing and comfort.
When I see children playing across the street, faces painted, sucking on frozen popsicles, I can’t help but smile, no matter how bad my day has been. There is a type of innocence in seeing the carefree attitude of those who are openly enjoying life. For just one moment, the summer heat represents the freedom to take chances, to embrace loved ones, and to fulfill dreams.
We don’t have to speak of this openly. We can just embrace it.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.